The Failed Legacy of Grover Norquist

May 30, 2017

Grover Norquist is the author of the “no tax” increase pledge (under any circumstances). He has persuaded 90% of Republicans to sign. I argue that he is a danger to the US and his legacy is doomed.

David Axelrod interviewed Grover Norquist on May 25 on The Axe Files. Axelrod did an excellent job of teasing out the basic assumptions of Norquist’s doctrine, challenging  Norquist at the extremes.

99% of Americans will surely agree with Norquist’s starting position–that there is much waste in government. Just cut the waste and we won’t even need future tax increases, he says. His plot is to hold tax increases hostage to reform and reduction in government spending. The existence of waste is indisputable. The elimination of it is not.

A second precept is Libertarian: He has been quoted as saying, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” His view of necessary government expenditures would stop with national security, prisons, rule of law, and property rights.  Infrastructure, basic science research, and health care wouldn’t be covered. Leave those to the private market, he says.

There is a huge flaw in Norquist’s doctrine. The whole discussion of cutting government waste is academic, regardless of where you’d focus. It’s simple. We can’t reduce government spending. Those savings are not available to fund our government needs.

I offer one relevant fact and two major obstacles: The fact is that the size of the US government (including federal, state, and local) in terms of percentage of GDP is less than that of the Euro Zone–about 16% less. Large highly developed countries apparently require a lot of expensive institutions to make them function well.

The first major obstacle is that there has been historically little focus on reducing government waste, under any previous administration. No administration has ever developed a plan for government reform. Perhaps a major reason is that agreement cannot be reached on what is waste. Noquist and I would certainly never agree.

Second, we simply do not have the governance structure necessary to conduct such a cleanup. For example, Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon, is going to reform the HUD $40 Billion budget?  Rick Perry will do that for Energy? In China, heads of agencies are chosen in large part based on merit. In Singapore, private sector executives rotate in and out of government agencies and continue to be paid as they would in the private sector–in seven figures. Singapore is efficient. Maybe we should reform our governance as a first step.

Like Trump, Norquist makes his math work without further tax cuts by promising unrealistic GDP growth. He thinks 4% is likely–Reagan did it, is his economic justification. Actually Reagan fell short. Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton did it, both Democrats, but times have changed, and I don’t know of any respected economist who expects even 3% under Trump. First quarter 2017 was 1.2%.

In summary, (1) other smaller developed countries spend more than we do, indicating that reduction is certainly hard; (2) there never has been a US political commitment to prioritize government reform and cost reduction; and, (3) we simply do not have the governance structure to accomplish it. Norquist started the “pledge” of no tax increases in 1986. Has there been any significant reform or reduction in government in the thirty years since? Not even under the Republican icon Ronald Reagan. I rest my case.

If Norquist is as smart as he seems, he understands reforming government and reducing its cost is appealing to talk about, but just abut impossible to do. If that’s the case, then what is Norquist’s real agenda in further cutting taxes…? It seems to come down to enriching the wealthy.

With slow growth and almost the entire Republic party committed to no tax increases, we cannot fix our infrastructure or our schools, much less restore starved social programs.

Grover Norquist’s position on government and taxes is totally flawed and is damaging our country. It’s a danger to the advancement of our commitment to culture, community, and progress as a nation.

I expect the legacy of Grover Norquist will be that of an obstructionist who only weakened the USA. He sold the Republicans based on false assumptions. Shame on them for buying it.

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